My Evening with Michelle Obama
I attended Michelle Obama’s final book release event this week in Los Angeles at sold-out YouTube Theater. Her celebrity interviewer was Oprah Winfrey. This evening was ostensibly produced to promote Michelle’s new book, The Light We Carry. In fact, it was just another “under the radar” 2024 presidential campaign event for Michelle.
I arrived two hours early and saw thousands of excited Michelle Obama fans already waiting in line to get in. The vibe was clearly that of a campaign rally. At one hour until showtime, the crowd was let in and swarmed Michelle’s tour merchandise and book sales kiosks, forking out money for swag and books. Finally filtering into their seats with 15 minutes to showtime, the fans heard Michelle’s voice over the loudspeakers, “Please welcome America’s DJ, D-Nice!” D-Nice had a DJ set up on stage and played disco songs while whipping the crowd into a frenzy. The entire audience danced and sang along to the hits for the next 30 minutes. Michelle’s two primary target groups -- women and minorities, often overlapping -- dominated the audience.
Finally, a video introduction was shown on the big screen, narrated by Michelle. The crowd oohed and aahed at photos of Michelle and Barack while she described her feel-good messages about her previous Becoming book tour. Michelle said it was interrupted by Covid, and she lamented the separation from her fans. Then, after the benevolent pretense, the video turned political. Michelle mentioned the George Floyd riots as “a long overdue reckoning with race in America.” In reference to the Supreme Court decision on Roe v Wade, she claimed that “an erosion of our rights” has left us “shaken and angry, despondent and alone.” Finally, images of Michelle dancing and speaking on stages flashed as she introduced Oprah Winfrey.
Oprah suddenly appeared on stage to greet a now hysterical crowd. After a few words, she introduced “our forever first lady, Michelle Obama” who appeared stage left to even more adulation. The two sat down for the one-on-one discussion that everyone came to see. However, it was quickly apparent that the interview questions were all pre-planned and rehearsed, as still photos of whatever Michelle was saying appeared on the big screen as she spoke. Although the stagecraft made for good theater, it took away any sense of authenticity.
Though Michelle claimed to have written a new self-help book, the interview focused largely on politics. Regarding the Obama White House years, Michelle declared, “We set the bar high with hope.” She constantly referred to everything from health care to the economy to foreign policy as things that “we did,” meaning she and Barack. The idea of a co-presidency came as news only to those who don’t pay attention, which was just about all of the audience. In fact, in 2008 Michelle was the co-candidate with Barack. She crisscrossed the country making fiery political speeches to huge crowds for months, stating what she and Barack were focused on what they would do in office. It was only when Michelle went too far over the top with her comment, “For the first time in my life I’m proud of my country,” that the public backlash required a new strategy. That strategy was to put Michelle into the background with the laughable excuse “Michelle hates politics.” This strategy successfully cast the highly political Michelle Obama as just another First Lady, a role that continues to this day. The media choose not to notice that she is even more instinctively eloquent, authentic, and political than her husband.
Racial issues were covered to a great extent in the interview. Michelle’s attempt to become accepted and relatable with Black Americans is clearly one of the main goals of her books and tours. The reason for this is that Michelle wants to cement support from Black voters with whom she has little in common with, her newly platted braids notwithstanding. As I chronicle in my new book and film of the same name, Michelle Obama 2024, Her Real Life Story and Plan for Power, Michelle spent her childhood running away from the Black community for her education. Later, as the Black “front woman” for the Mayor of Chicago and then University of Chicago hospitals, she exploited the community that she had been avoiding. These endeavors are ones that Michelle never speaks about on tour, and certainly ones she wants to keep from Black voters.
Nonetheless, Michelle spoke freely about “growing up as a Black woman” and “my DNA as a Black woman.” She repeated the canard she had been racially profiled by her high school counselor regarding her Princeton application, a story I exposed as phony, given that the counselor was a church-going Black woman! Michelle talked about growing up Black, saying she experienced racial “cuts” her whole life. She told of how difficult it was to be held back in life and to feel she didn’t belong, due to her skin color. All this is of course total nonsense. Her skin color got her into an exclusive high school, Princeton and then Harvard Law.
As Michelle got into a groove with her racial “cuts” talk, she went off script and asked Oprah about her childhood as a Black kid. Oprah responded, “Oh, I was one of two Black kids out of 2,000 students.” A pleased Michelle went for affirmation of her racial “cuts” narrative, “And did you feel the cuts?” Oprah answered honestly, “no, there was never anything like that.” The air went out of the room for a few seconds, and Michelle quickly changed topics. Oprah is ten years older than Michelle and grew up in the South, yet experienced no racism. Oprah made it in life on her own abilities and never needed to allege racism to get ahead. Michelle, on the other hand, has made a political career making up racial slights.
In a deliberate homage to Democrat party woke political forces, Michelle used the metaphor of her young daughters sharing an apartment in Los Angeles to launch an attack on traditional marriage. Michelle said she wanted all kids to understand that all types of lifestyles are fine, and that marriage is no more a valid life aspiration that any other lifestyle. Having a family was not something necessarily that brings happiness, she said, using Oprah herself as an example, awkwardly exclaiming, “Oprah’s happy!”
Oprah asked Michelle about the title of the final chapter of her book, “Going High." Michelle famously attacked Donald Trump in 2016 and concluded her vitriol, saying, “When they go low, we go high.” Oprah quoted Michelle’s comment in her book that because of their race she and Barack “couldn’t afford to screw up” in the White House. Oprah then stated that Michelle and Barack screwed up “not even once.” To this, the audience roared their approval and Michelle smiled widely.
Another prepared question in the midway point of the event surprised me. Oprah told Michelle that every time people talk to her about Michelle, they want her to run for President. “Would she do it?” Oprah asked. The audience became quiet. Michelle had written a self-help book. If she had no interest in seeking the Presidency in 2024, why would this prepared question be part of the evening? In response, Michelle quipped that she should be the one who gets to decide. She then claimed, falsely, that politics was never in her soul, but that she does believe in service and helping children. She added that the country was too divided politically for her to be interested in seeking the presidency. The question and response was in fact perfect for Michelle’s under-the-radar campaign and her future declaration of being a 2024 candidate. Michelle is building up her image as someone who cares deeply about the nation and people, but is not interested in power. Donald Trump had used a similar and very effective line in his speeches, “I had a great life, I didn’t need any of this.” In other words, the reluctant and beloved “good person” is doing everyone else a favor by running. For Michelle this is a much preferred position to be in than her true self -- a lifelong radical politician who craves power and has an extreme agenda that even her fans might reject if they knew what it was.
Overall, Michelle is playing her hand well. To her credit, Michelle sounded natural and relaxed. She has come a long way developing her public persona. The super serious and angry Michelle has been traded in for a more likable model. The book tour is a roll-out of that model. Expect to see the tour recommence in January.
Currently there is near consensus among Democrats that Joe Biden should not seek a second term. Biden, I suspect, is talking about running in 2024 lest he appear to be a lame duck. Michelle meanwhile campaigns on the down low. There is no other Democrat candidate with Michelle Obama’s appeal and who delivers the Obama magic that Democrats love and miss so much. And, only Michelle can provide Democrats and their media allies with their most beloved weapon, race, to fend off criticism.
For its first primary, the Democrats have replaced campaigning in every county in Iowa with one-stop shopping in South Carolina. Michelle Obama traces her roots to South Carolina and campaigned there for her husband in 2008, who won the state easily. Some 60 percent of Democratic voters there are Black and “kingmaker” Rep. Jim Clyburn has huge sway over that voting bloc. In short, no Democrat could hope to beat Michelle in South Carolina, and that includes Joe Biden. Like the Clintons, the Obamas are never going away, and Michelle will be playing her hand for the White House in 2024 sometime next year.
Hollywood film director Joel Gilbert is president of Highway 61 Entertainment. Among his many films are political documentaries including The Trayvon Hoax: Unmasking the Witness Fraud that Divided America; Trump: The Art of the Insult; There's No Place Like Utopia; Dreams from My Real Father; Atomic Jihad; and Farewell Israel: Bush, Iran and the Revolt of Islam and the new film and book MICHELLE OBAMA 2024: Her Real Life Story and Plan for Power.